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Winter driving tips and guidelines

We list our top tips for driving during winter months, helping you to avoid the most common pitfalls

Remembering some simple driving tips this winter could help keep you safe on the roads

Remembering some simple driving tips this winter could help keep you safe on the roads

Once you’ve checked your car, packed your supplies and planned your journey carefully, you’re ready to set off. Follow these simple driving tips to keep you safe on the roads in winter weather.

  • Start off in 2nd gear when you can, easing your foot off gently to avoid the wheels spinning – and avoid revving the car too much.

  • Slow down and accelerate smoothly - don’t go too fast and lose control, but don’t go so slow that you lose momentum. It’s important to keep moving wherever possible, even just at walking pace.

  • Drive in the highest gear possible – higher gears give you more control.

  • Multiply the distance between you and the car in front by ten.

  • Reduce your speed significantly for bends and corners, in plenty of time. Always manoeuvre gently.

  • Make sure you can stop within the distance you can see up ahead is clear from snow/ice/water.

  • If you can't see, slow down – and keep an eye on drivers behind you, as they might not be able to see you if the sun is in their eyes. Be ready to dip your mirrors if the low sun is behind you and could suddenly dazzle you.

  • If you feel your steering is light and noise has reduced, you may be driving on ice.

Remember: frost, ice and snow remain for longer under trees, on bridges and in areas exposed to wind.
  • Going uphill, wait until the cars in front have reached the top of the hill, so you don’t have to stop and restart in the middle of a hill ascent. Keep a constant speed and avoid changing down gears as you climb.

  • Travelling down a hill, reduce your speed well in advance, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave lots of room between you and the car in front.

  • If you drive an Automatic, using the DRIVE option on motorways and normal roads is fine. In very snowy conditions, select 2 to limit the gear changes and avoid having to use the brakes too much. Use your WINTER mode if you have it!

Lorry driving in snowVery snowy conditions will reduce visibility and make roads more dangerous, so drive at a sensible speed

If you skid…

… Release the brakes and take your foot off the clutch. Steer to regain control, and only use the brake if you are unable to steer out of trouble. Steer in the direction you want the wheels to go – if your wheels are sliding right, steer right. You can then pump the brakes gently or, if you have ABS, apply steady pressure to the brakes.

Stuck in snow?

Straighten your steering wheel, clear the snow from the wheels, and put a sack or old rug in front of the wheels to provide grip.

TIP: Place sand, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels (or cheap cat litter) to help get traction.
Try not to stop again until you reach firmer ground. Don’t keep trying to move if your wheels start spinning (you will only get more stuck). Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way, and be sparing with the accelerator to ease your car out. Or, shift between forward and reverse – while in gear, lightly touch the accelerator until the vehicle starts moving.

Rain and floods

Remember, water on the road can be deeper than it looks – and you can lose control in less than a centimetre of water. If you see big puddles ahead, don’t brake or accelerate into them. On water, ease off the accelerator, grip the steering wheel firmly and try to steer straight ahead on motorways. Put your wipers on their top setting before overtaking, and DO NOT USE cruise control on wet roads (it can cause problems if you aquaplane). Drive on the highest section of the road and keep revs high by keeping the clutch partially engaged. Never take your foot off the accelerator while traveling in deep water – this could allow water to get in the exhaust pipe. Always test your brakes after driving through water (check nobody is behind you!)

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Windy conditions

To avoid damage and accidents caused by high winds, choose a route with less exposure to the weather and less likely to be littered in debris! SLOW DOWN – you’re more vulnerable to side winds at higher speeds. Be prepared for gusts of wind when you pass a large vehicle or building and keep an eye in your mirrors for flying objects. Look at what’s happening to other vehicles by way of warning, and give cyclists and motorcyclists more room than usual.

Freezing fog

  • Plan your route to avoid fog – it usually collects near water first – and to make sure you will know where you are, even if you can’t read signs on the road.
  • If you cant see clearly, use dipped headlights – only use fog lights when your visibility is less than 100m.
  • Don’t be tempted to go too fast, or accelerate sharply, to avoid a car closely following behind you.
  • Brake early to help the drivers behind you, and put your windows down to listen for the traffic you might not be able to see.

Broken down?

Car at side of road winter sunset While driving, always keep a track of where you are – if you break down, you’ll need to tell emergency services where to find you so make sure your phone is fully charged before setting off and that you have a charger on board!

You might want to download the app what3words, which can help point emergency services to a precise location in the event of an accident. Its creators have divided the world into 57 trillion equal squares, each measuring 3 metres by 3 metres and all given a unique three-word address so even if you're lost, you can tell someone exactly where you are.

Remember, always check the weather and conditions before you depart and never start your journey if it's not safe to drive.

About the Author

Kirsty Cooke

Content Editor at Arnold Clark